I'd intended to make this post about Passover and Easter, the two holidays that bookend this weekend. Nature has had other ideas, signaling to me in my favorite kind of way.
The bees have been buzzing around my firebush, the bluejays and mockingbirds are warbling and trilling ... and dive-bombing. This weekend, as I was planting new tomatoes and herbs out back, two squirrels chased each other around and around our oak tree. They tore through the seed and nut mix I put out for the birds, exalting in the choicest bits. They spun their tails like lariats. I was just wondering if they were doing the squirrel mating dance when indeed, they began mating.
This was my first glimpse of squirrel sex, and I can tell you it's inspiring and athletic. Having sex and scampering up a tree at the same time requires a degree of multitasking I have yet to achieve. At one point, the male toppled from the female, plummeted off the oak tree and landed on the white bird palm below. Happily, it's a palm with broad fronds. He bounced, as though landing on a trampoline. Dignity unscathed, the squirrel bounced, high-tailed right back up and got to it.
Afterwards -- how familiar -- the male fell asleep. I've never seen a squirrel sleep before. But this one just made himself at home, curled up on a branch, in plain sight if you knew where to look, and crashed out for half an hour. The female circled him. Perhaps I'm projecting here, but she seemed to try to nudge him -- Really? No talk? No cuddle?
Guys. What can you do?
Still, the squirrels have been doing what comes naturally. So have the birds. They swoop at me fearlessly when I'm anywhere near their nests, where their clutches of eggs are. Birds. Bees. Squirrels. Sex. Add it up.
I do not live in some magical wonderland, I live in an urban area, and if that much libidinal impulse can muscle its way into city living, it's a sure sign of spring. As I say in my book, "Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner," spring "is when life tells you yes."
We might package Passover and Easter tidily with other things, with a little "Next year in Jerusalem" here and "He is risen" there, but at their heart, both celebrate spring the season of love, of desire and blossoming. Before there was formal religion, there were birds, bees, squirrels and sex.
"God in heaven, there's nothing like nature," as Molly Bloom says in James Joyce's "Ulysses."
Here's my favorite bit from Job:
But ask the animals and they will teach you,
Or the birds of the air, and they will tell you,
Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you...
Which of all these does not know
That the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind.
The bible says we are precious, with a bit of the divine in us all. So at this time of new beginning, of regeneration, consider listening to the animals. Don't eat them. The animals will teach us. The earth will tell us. We just have to listen.
Recipe reprinted from "Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner," copyright Ellen Kanner, 2013, with permission from New World Library.
In her lusty soliloquy in "Ulysses," Molly Bloom recalls "the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth." Here's the seed cake recipe from my book. Containing leavening and seeds, it's not suitable for Passover, but can be enjoyed throughout the rest of spring, throughout the whole year. Plus, who else will give you a seed cake recipe, Job and James Joyce together in one Meatless Monday post? Only me, folks. Yessssss.
1 cup unsweetened soy or hemp milk
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds (also known as flax meal)
2 tablespoons ground chia seeds
2 teaspoons whole anise seeds
1-1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup evaporated cane sugar*
1/2 cup hemp, flax or canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 cup raisins
zest and juice of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease an 8" round cake pan or a 9"x5" loaf pan.
In a small bowl, combine soy milk with flax, chia and anise seeds. Stir lightly to combine and let sit while you assemble the other ingredients.
In a large bowl sift together whole wheat flour, baking soda and baking powder. Grate in lemon zest.
In another bowl, mix together evaporated cane sugar, hemp or canola oil, apple sauce and lemon juice. Add to dry mixture, along with the soy milk, which, thanks to the seeds, will have thickened madly. Stir together, then fold in the raisins.
Pour into prepared baking pan and bake for 45 minutes or until the cake is golden, puffed and a tester inserted in the center comes away crumb-free and clean. You can also give it a gentle poke with a finger. It springs back perfectly when baked through.
Remove from oven and let cool. Wrapped well and refrigerated, it keeps for several days.
*Less processed than white sugar, it looks similar to light brown sugar. It's sold in natural food stores and in many supermarkets. It's the go-to sugar in all "Feeding the Hungry Ghost" recipes.
This post originally ran on March 25, 2013.